he World Health Organization (WHO) has today published its much awaited new evidence-based Global Air Quality guidelines, the first update since 2005. Health groups now urge the European Union and national decision-makers to protect the health of hundreds of millions by stepping up efforts for clean air for health. This can be achieved first and foremost by fully aligning EU air quality standards with the science based guidelines and other new studies - a step that thousands of citizens have been calling for.
Last night, 14 February, all political parties in the Turkish Parliament agreed to withdraw a proposal on granting exemptions from environmental investments including filtration systems, flue gas facilities and ash dams to privatized coal power plants for an additional 2 years. This so-called Article 45 would have allowed private operators of coal plants to continue polluting.
During the last weeks, this Article 45 in the law proposal to change the Turkish Mining Law was met with huge public concern. More than 65 thousand people demanded clean air and a cancellation of Article 45 in a petition started by local groups living in the cities of those plants, in collaboration with national and international NGOs. The Turkish Right to Clean Air Platform* that brings together groups including Greenpeace-Mediterranean, HEAL, TEMA Foundation, 350.org, CAN-Europe, Turkish Medical Association, Turkish Thoracics Society, Association of Public Health Specialists also voiced concerns on the suggested law. National and international civil society groups joined up, and met up with the parliamentarians, as well as carrying out awareness raising and advocacy through the national press.
Eventually, all these voices were heard by the Turkish Parliament and the Article 45 which would result in 1,100 premature deaths annually by allowing the privatized coal power plants to operate without environmental investments such as the flue gas and ash dam facilities until the end of 2021 instead of 2019 was withdrawn. Due to the decision, all privatised coal plants now have to complete environmental infrastructures and emission control systems by the end of this year.
Reactions from the Turkish civil society:
Turkish Medical Association, Assoc. Prof. Dr Gamze Varol: “This decision is an important step taken to prevent many diseases and premature deaths in the cities where the coal power plants are located, especially respiratory diseases, including cancer. We demand Turkish decision makers continue to work towards cleaner air and to minimise air pollution at its sources.”
HEAL-Health and Environment Alliance, Funda Gacal: “The Turkish Parliament rightly prioritised the protection of people’s health in Turkey and beyond. We will be following the results and very much hoping this decision will be an example for the coal plant operators to follow up with the regulations to protect public health.”
Greenpeace-Mediterranean Head of Campaigns Deniz Bayram: “Turkish Parliament returned from a mistake that could harm the human right to live in a healthy and balanced environment stated in Article 56 of the Constitution. We demand from the Turkish Parliament not to take similar law proposal in their agenda afterwards, and also we demand environmental investments into these coal power plants immediately, to not cause further air pollution and premature deaths.”
TEMA Foundation, Zonguldak Representative Berran Aydan: “We are delighted that our demands were well heard. During the campaign, all NGOs worked together in a collaborative way; thus, a strong public opinion was created. We would like to thank all citizens who supported the petition to defend our rights to live and clean air.”